In May 1963, Britain was firmly in the grip of Beatlemania, with the loveable moptops bestriding the hit parade with their first number one, From Me to You.

At about the same time, another musical institution was being established - but without the sound of thousands of screaming female fans.

The Fo'c'sle Folk Club, one of the oldest folk clubs in the country, was founded in Southampton on the back of a grass-roots revival in folk music.

Despite the vagaries of fashion and 15 changes of venue, the club has survived five decades to present the cream of folk music including influential artists such as Ewan McColl, Martin Carthy and Shirley Collins.

Folk enthusiasts John Edgar Mann and John Paddy Browne wanted a regular venue where genuine fans could come and listen to traditional music.

The club grew out of the Balladeer Club, a weekly folk night at the Concorde Club, then based in its first home, The Bassett Hotel in Burgess Road.

Mann had previously dealt with bookings at the Balladeer, where he had distinguished himself by politely turning down a certain Paul Simon because he was not willing to risk £5 on an artist he had not heard of!

Mann took over the bookings at the new Fo'c'sle Club, with Browne acting as Master of Ceremonies. The first meeting was held in the Bay Tree Inn in New Road on Friday May 10, 1963. The artists appearing included Bob Davenport and The Balladeers.

John Paddy Browne recalls: "John and I discussed having a proper opening ceremony, but before this could be decided, I had to go down to the railway station to collect Bob Davenport.

"Bob and I stopped off at a cafe for a meal before the show, but my watch stopped and we were late back to The Bay Tree.

"We arrived to find The Balladeers in full swing. If there had been an opening ceremony, we'd missed it."

From that night on, Friday Fo'c'sle nights alternated between informal sessions featuring local musicians and singers, and guest nights when top folk artists appeared.

Among the early guests were Sydney "Lord Of The Dance" Carter, Cyril Tawney and Alex Campbell. A high standard of music became synonymous with Bay Tree sessions. Strictly speaking, the club's crowd limit was around 50, but at least double that number usually crammed in.

Folk singer Ewan McColl, father of the late Kirsty, recalls in his biography that there wasn't enough oxygen to light a cigarette, while John Paddy Browne remarks: "The condensation was so great that posters used to peel off the walls."

The Fo'c'sle had to look for another venue in 1965 when new licensees with no interest in folk music moved into The Bay Tree.

Over the next two years it met at two pubs which have long since been demolished - firstly the Arundel Towers Hotel, huddled in the Old Walls of the city, then at the Bank Inn in Everton Street for two years.

The Fo'c'sle eventually returned to its original home The Bay Tree Inn in September 1967. John Edgar Mann has particular memories of one night during the 1970s.

"An Australian band called The Bushwhackers and Bullockies Band were playing and they were sensational, entertaining a packed and thirsty house.

"Unfortunately, the landlord was taken ill during the first half and had to be rushed to hospital, leaving the bar unattended. We had a variation on the Antipodean song A Pub With No Beer, but fortunately a regular called Ian Malone saved the day by acting as barman for the night."

The Fo'c'sle resumed its itinerant status during the mid-70s when they were forced out of the Bay Tree, moving firstly to the Bridge Tavern in Six Dials, then the Ordnance Survey social club, before settling in at the Joiners Arms in St Mary Street in September 1975 where they were to stay for eight years.

"The Joiners era was really the heyday of the Fo'c'sle," comments Mann.

"It was bigger than the Bay Tree and we used to fill it every week. We were the first music people to use the venue which has since become legendary for live music, and we were able to put on all the big names in the folk world."

Towards the end of their tenure at The Joiners, Mann decided that 20 years as secretary of the Fo'c'sle was enough, relinquishing his responsibilities to Terry Gregory who was later succeeded by Debra Chesman.

The next port of call for the Fo'c'sle was the Portswood Hotel in Bevois Valley, today better known as The Hobbit, in late 1983. An opening gig featuring West Country favourites The Yetties augured well for the new venue, but less than a year later they were back at their old haunt The Joiners. They were still there in 1988 when the club celebrated its silver jubilee.

A grand ceiledh featuring the Albion Dance Band was held in the Mountbatten Theatre where there was more room.

Hard times hit The Fo'c'sle in the 1990s with dwindling audiences and more venue problems. After spells at the Drummond Hotel in Woolston and the Old Tap and Barrel in London Road, it looked like the club would close down after a final concert at The Bay Tree Inn featuring renowned folk musician John Renbourn in June 1993.

An emotional "save-the-Fo'c'sle" meeting at the venue later that summer saved the club, which reopened in the autumn back at The Bassett Hotel in Burgess Road where the Balladeer Club had started 30 years previously.

In an effort to send out the message that they were not a bunch of old fogies, the club advertised itself as The New Fo'c'sle Club, but by 1996 when they were firmly ensconced in yet another home, The Old Tauntonians Social Club building in Highfield Road, it was known simply as The Fo'c'sle once more.

During its time in the wooden OTSC building, which has since been demolished, the Fo'c'sle became a non-smoking club.

The Fo'c'sle moved to its present home in an upstairs function room at the Duke of Wellington at the beginning of 1997, and has been there ever since.

Attendance has stabilised to around 50 folk enthusiasts per session, and the quality of visiting performers has continued to be of the highest calibre.

Among the artists current MC Brian Hooper has introduced over the last few years are Martin Wyndham-Read, Cyril Tawney, Roy Bailey, John Kirkpatrick, Kristina Olsen, Maggie Boyle, Martin Carthy and Vin Garbutt.

For the last seven years Trevor Gilson and Jane Allison have handled the bookings at The Fo'c'sle and they have extended the club's policy of putting on bigger events at different locations. Twice a year, in conjunction with Woolston Folk Club, the Fo'c'sle take over the SS Shieldhall moored in Ocean Village for the night, where special guests have included Julie Felix.

Trevor and Jane hosted the 40th birthday session at the Duke of Wellington, Bugle Street, where a packed house was entertained by a succession of performers.

Folk fans reminisced about the good old days of The Fo'c'sle and raised their glasses to the continued success of a club which has become a local institution.

For more information about the Fo'c'sle call 023 8045 6337.